samedi 8 septembre 2007

First Night on the Road

Before I can even begin the story of here, I must relate the voyage--if at least to give reference.

Linda and I left mid August with my worldly possessions (and Brady's) stuffed in the back of a more or less reliable Ford Explorer. Although gratuitous gas consumption is not kind on either my morals or checkbook, it made more sense than facing the journey North in a 1970 MG Midget, which was the only other available option. We packed bologna sandwiches, plums, nectarines, peaches, chips, salsa, Coca-Cola, and lime-flavored LaCroix. We brought books on tape. We brought one another.

Driving is essentially an uneventful activity, at least if all goes well. We made excellent time and gas mileage, arriving near our destination at Crosby campground in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Right on the precipice of the park exists one of the most bizarre pair of "cities" in all of America: Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, Tennessee.

Jean Baudrillard, recently deceased French theoretician, devoted much of his career to explain what he called "hyper-reality"--evidently a reality above reality, fantasy qua reality. This hyper-reality is especially well illustrated in Baudrillard's schema of the procession of the simulacra, wherein in a sign mirrors basic reality, begins to distort it but nevertheless remains faithful to the original, departs heavily from reality, and finally exists instead of reality (the basic reality no longer exists). Baudrillard could have written this work on a single visit to Pigeon Forge.

The sign reads, "Welcome! Pigeon Forge: Family Vacation Hub." Even today the population is no more than 5000. The main drag there is completely zoned for tourism. This all began in the 60s after years of being little more than a settlement on the outskirts of Gatlinburg. The first attraction, Rebel Railroad, brought tourists on a confederate train under attack by the Union army. Pigeon Forge with its limited resources, both in population and in economy, hardly played in the American Civil War, although a few residents did enlist on the Union side of the skirmish.

When Linda and I passed through, it was all we could bear not to jam into the stand still Friday night traffic on US-441 as we named the litany of attractions with uncontained awe. A theater dedicated to one evangelical musical called The Miracle Theater. Countless "Old West" shows, saloons, and theme restaurants. Sky diving. Dinosaur Walk Museum. The Pigeon Forge Gem Mine. A strange upside down building--stately columns included--called WonderWorks. Fiddler's Feast Tennessee Shindig, which according to the website, seats 900 for its nightly supper shows. Black Bear Jamboree. And the diamond in the diadem, Dollywood.

We barely noticed when all of a sudden the lights were out and we were surrounded by dense mountain trees on a road that took more and more daring turns up the mountain. We were in the midst of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Alarmed, we crept up toward a summit, in the wrong direction. Eventually we backtracked along the road, and figured out the way to Crosby thanks to a "friend of the park." We pitched a tent and so ended our first night on our tour of America.

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